Peter Wehner’s headline writer at the New York Times insists that “Christian Doomsayers Have Lost It.”
In the accompanying piece, Wehner makes the now-familiar argument that Christians who support the president are bolstering an odious man who “embodies . . . an anti-Christian ethic,” and are doing so for no good or defensible reason.
Wehner characterizes the pro-Trump Christian’s calculus, for which he has little sympathy, this way: While “Mr. Trump may be unethical, unscrupulous, and morally dissolute,” when compared with the Democratic alternatives, Trump is “by far the lesser of two evils.”
Needless to say, he doesn’t agree that Christian Trump supporters are making a tragic choice between an admittedly imperfect vessel and a party that means their faith harm. He believes they are linking fates with a “demagogue” in order to fight perceived threats “to their core beliefs” that “hardly qualify as existential.”
While Christian readers are to take ostensible solace in the fact that Peter Wehner of the New York Times does not deem any of the threats to their “core beliefs” to be “existential,” it’s an awfully tough claim to support in a country where participation in organized religion has seen precipitous declines, where the leading Democratic presidential candidate has indicated that his top legislative priority would be passing the conscience-rights boondoggle that is the “Equality Act,” and where every major candidate for the Democratic nomination has pledged to fund an international abortion regime with taxpayer dollars. At very least, the suggestion that Christians are misapprehending the threats posed by progressives seems like one for which Wehner would have to proffer evidence, and he offers little beyond insinuation.
Instead, after stating his thesis, Wehner loses the plot. He skewers a few Christian pundits who he feels have been hasty or hyperbolic in their support of Trump before shifting the ground again, insisting that religious voters ought to be grateful for improvements in various social indicators. “Just how bad are things, really?” he asks, which is the sort of question that assumes Christians are more concerned about the almost accidental decadence of the culture today than they are about the very intentional decadence the current crop of Democrats mean to install as part of their platform. Wehner points out that the number of abortions performed annually, while still well over 800,000, has gone down, which is true enough, though as he himself admits, losing 800,000 unborn children to abortion each year is hardly something upon which to hang one’s hat. He notes that rates of teen pregnancy and violent crime have fallen, too, and teenagers are using less alcohol than they did 40 years ago. What’s his point? Since these statistical declines have occurred under both Republican and Democratic administrations, he asserts, the argument that a Democratic president poses an extraordinary threat to Christianity — a threat so great as to justify supporting an “unethical, unscrupulous, and morally dissolute” figure such as Trump — is without basis in fact.
This line of argument is irrelevant to the question Wehner alluded to at the outset: Can a Christian voter justify support for Trump, whose flaws are apparent and manifold, given the threat posed by these alternatives? Whatever trends emerged from the Clinton and Obama administrations to cheer religious conservatives, the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates has promised to dismantle religious-liberty carveouts, support abortion rights without exception or apology, and foist gender ideology onto kids in elementary school. Perhaps worst of all, the 2020 Democrats want religious taxpayers to sponsor the proliferation of international abortion rights, which would conscript the faithful into subsidizing a procedure that they — rightly — consider tantamount to murder.
Wehner nevertheless offers this bit of advice to his “coreligionists”:
We need to find ways to love others in unexpected ways and show what it means to live faithfully in a world full of fear, as Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, puts it. We should be willing to accept good news where we find it. We shouldn’t assume that joy, gratitude and kindness are synonyms for weakness. And we should be known more for caring for our culture than for constantly being at war with it.
Though it’s a cute quip, Christ’s injunction to “turn the other cheek” is not an exhortation to whistle past the graveyard as the Democratic party grows ever-more vocal in its anti-Christianity. But whistling past the graveyard is precisely what Wehner does. In a culture that is thoroughly secular, where roughly one-third of children are living with an unmarried parent, where single-motherhood rates are worst among the poor and disenfranchised, and leading candidates for one of the two major political parties have vowed to enshrine abortion rights into federal law, Wehner is no doubt dismayed. Ultimately, though, he shrugs; these are problems, sure, but they “hardly qualify as existential.”
Perhaps it is not the Christian doomsayers who have “lost it.”